How working at a shooting range shaped my view on guns

‘Every summer, I happily and willingly hand out .22 caliber rifles to girls as young as nine’

The 2016 Presidential election has been one full of lines in the sand. You’re either a Trump supporter, or you think he’s awful. You either think Hillary is a criminal, or you think she’s an acceptable presidential candidate, at the very least when compared to Trump. You either think a third-party candidate could save our election, or they could ruin it.

The presidential election also brings big divides on topics like immigration, LGBTQA+ rights, and universal health care. With our two party system, elections essentially force you to decisively stand to one side or the other. There is no middle ground when you pull that lever in the voting booth.

One of the most divisive topics in many elections, only made more relevant by the too many mass shootings that have happened in just the past two months is gun control. Guns are generally regarded as either good (“They gave us the right to bear them in the Constitution!” “We need to protect ourselves!” etc) or bad because, you know, they kill people quite easily. But honestly, they aren’t either. Now, this isn’t one of those “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” essays that are a dime a dozen.

I’m going to to be honest here. Overall, I’m pro-gun control. But every summer, I happily and willingly hand out .22 caliber rifles to girls as young as nine, and .22 Beretta semi-automatic pistols to girls as young as fourteen (on a rifle range at a camp. I’m not just handing them out willy-nilly to anyone I meet on the street.)

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Working on the range over the years has taught me a lot about guns, the primary thing being that yes, while a lot of our policies are too lenient (*cough* I was able to buy an AR-15 in five minutes *cough*) we need to be aware that no matter how stringent we could make our gun laws, human stupidity and overconfidence will always outsmart them.

There’s a story the riflery counselors were told during our pistolry training about a DEA agent. This man had been an agent for about ten years, armed with a semi-automatic pistol for all of them. He went to give a talk at an elementary school, and of course students asked about his gun. He took it out and unloaded it to show them. Except he unloaded it in the wrong order (mistake number one) and pointed it at the ground (mistake number two. Why? Because there are THINGS on the ground. Things that will experience a lot of pain if shot.)

He made a third mistake, and didn’t index his finger (moving your index finger off and away from the trigger. And what did he do? He accidentally shot himself in the foot.

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You see my finger? That’s indexing

This agent is, unfortunately, a prime example of someone who should know better. The three mistakes he made are rules we teach our girls to never, ever do before they even touch a rifle for the first time. But the DEA agent was, presumably, so used to having a gun, he didn’t even think through what he was doing.

Other issues with our portrayal and thoughts on guns are our assumptions of safety, and/or lack thereof. All guns are equipped with a feature called a “safety”, a button or lever that, when on, prevents the trigger from being pulled. However, when this button is on, the gun is not necessarily fine and dandy. Safeties fail, and the first sign of a gun breaking down is it shoots on its own.

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A need for personal safety is highly cited as a reason to have a personal firearm. But here’s the thing. Besides our riflery shed, where we keep the guns and rifles our campers shoot, all of our “Big Staff” members (camp speak for our staff members who¬†live at camp year round) have their own pistols, so collectively, the camp has lots of firepower. The staff knows that because we are so far in the Hill Country, they are the first line of defense in case something happens. Even then, they don’t carry their guns. Why? Because virtually no one’s safety is constantly at risk, so they keep their pistols stored away but accessible in the event of a rattle snake, or someone trying to get into the camp.

As far as lack of safety in handling the firearms, in the 15 years the camp range has been open, we have yet to have an accident of any sort, which is remarkable given that with the exception of the counselors and staff, no one is older than 18.

Basically, what it all boils down to is yes, there are some serious issues with how we handle guns. People are either too afraid around them, or not afraid enough. Because of this double edged sword, there is no good solution to a major issue. Even a compromise could have issues, as people either refuse to back down, or take advantage of whatever the final decision is. We can’t treat this like another line in the sand issue.